The “Long Consensus”

E. J. Dionne was on Morning Joe this morning discussing his new book, Our Divided Political Heart: The Battle for the American Idea in an Age of Discontent. The book’s argument is:

from the very beginning, our country has been characterized by a deep but healthy tension between our love of individual liberty and our devotion to community. Yet we seem to have forgotten our own rich history of balance, one reason for our poisoned political atmosphere.

This morning Dionne said:

In the U.S. we have been governing under a kind of a long consensus that we really established at the beginning of the progressive era. It was a consensus that saw a strong role for the market and a strong role for government. And I think now politics is roiled because one side of our debate wants to end that long consensus.

Now, that’s a legitimate position for them to hold, but I think it’s untrue to what made us succeed as Americans, which is a sense of balance: public-private, individual-community, national-local. We’ve always kept things in balance and I think there’s an attempt right now to push everything over on one side.

E. J. Dionne is one of my favorite left-leaning pundits, but he said something here I don’t agree with. He said that someone who wants to end the “long consensus” that “made us succeed as Americans” is holding a “legitimate position.

I don’t think so, and I think we need to metaphorically pound it into the heads of Americans that it is not legitimate.

Okay, let me backtrack just a bit: it is legitimate in the sense that it is completely legal to argue for a return to the era of the robber barons, this being a free country. But it is not legitimate in the sense of it being a reasonable position to hold. Scuttling that long-held consensus—which is the product of numerous ideological compromises—would bring ruin to the America we know and therefore is not a legitimate argument to make.

And, as I said, we need to keep reminding Americans that compromise and consensus are good things, and that the radicals in our midst who abhor them are not to be respected as holding “legitimate” positions.

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